Facebook faced widespread criticism for conducting a psychology experiment on about 700,000 of its users without their informed consent. In the study, Facebook researchers manipulated users’ moods by exposing them to more positive or more negative posts than usual.
In 2014, CNNMoney reported that Facebook has been engaged in a more benign and possibly beneficial psychological experiment.
The company has been under pressure to address the growing problem of “cyberbullying” among young people. It also has been looking for ways to help users address their conflicts and disputes themselves rather than enlisting the company as mediator.
So, for several years, the social network has been working with social scientists to bring traditional methods of dispute resolution to cyberspace. The site has begun to offer users tools to resolve disputes with one another over offensive or upsetting posts, including insults and photos.
Facebook has created message templates that allow users to explain what they object to about a particular posts. For example, they can select options such as “It’s embarrassing” or “It’s a bad photo of me,” according to CNNMoney. Users are also asked to state how the offensive post makes them feel – such as angry, sad, or afraid – and how strongly they experience the emotions they report.
Facebook says its new dispute resolution can be effective and convenient. However, some forms of online dispute resolution, such as e-mediation, have been found by researchers to lack the rapport and warmth of face-to-face talks. Online disputants miss out on important body language, facial expressions, and other in-person signals that can be so useful when communicating in person.
For these reasons, there is a risk that when Facebook users confront those who have offended them, some disputes could escalate rather than subside. Moreover, absent the presence of a trained mediator, Facebook users may lack the skills and experience needed to defuse tension and brainstorm solutions.
Still, given that hashing out online disputes in person is often impractical, as is having a professional mediator referee every dispute, Facebook should be commended for attempting to find new ways to bring proven dispute resolution practices to our increasingly contentious online world.
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Originally published in 2014.
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